Ceremony, Storytelling, and the Paradox of Thresholds

Authors: Charles Carlin*, University of Wisconsin
Topics: Cultural Geography, Landscape, Geographic Theory
Keywords: jung, psyche, landscape, threshold, ceremony, subjectivity, sacred space
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This is a paper about thresholds, stories, and the shifting ecology of psyche, an ambiguous field from which one’s sense of self emerges. As indigenous-led socioecological movements gain strength, the argument that psyche is more-than-human and permeates the world is gaining political resonance. The struggles over the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota and the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, to name just two, are based in assertions that the world is psychically alive, resonating with numinous significance. For those of us working out from the confines of intellectual traditions that divide meaning and materiality, however, accessing a felt experience of psyche as more-than-human psyche can seem daunting.

This paper shares insights from an ethnographic investigation of a practice of ceremonial fasting in an American desert. It details one group’s search to enter a liminal space where they encounter psyche in the world while diffusing the human self into that world. It also recounts the difficulties of representing those soul-searching journeys. I argue that the ceremonial threshold at work in this practice is an ontological paradox. It opens a passage to sacred space in which the depths of psyche can be explored topographically, but the ritualized storytelling sessions that take place after the fact aim to help participants bring their experiences back across the threshold, revealing the experience of psyche as more-than-human as an allowing of an often-dormant perceptual affordance to emerge instead of it being an ontological border crossing.

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